Christ’s appeal to creation and His restrictions on the lawful grounds for divorce (Matt. 19:1–9) rebuke any desire to find loopholes in the marriage laws in order to escape unions that sinners find unfulfilling. Marriage is to be cherished wholeheartedly, not to be dispensed with as we futilely attempt to find “happiness” outside of God’s gracious law. Husbands and wives are called to obey the Lord together and work tirelessly to become one flesh physically, emotionally, and spiritually by guarding and renewing their relationship (Gen. 2:24–25).
As seen in today’s passage, the disciples misunderstand the inherent worthiness of holy matrimony, believing marriage to be appealing only if liberal provision is made for divorce and remarriage. When they say, “If such is the case…it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10), they really mean, “If these words are true, Jesus, we are better off unmarried than to find ourselves in a dissatisfying marriage that does not meet your criteria for a just divorce.”
Christ does not deny the truth of this response entirely, confirming that singleness can be desirable (vv. 11–12). However, He disagrees with His followers that the potential for imperfect marriages makes singleness a better alternative. Instead, singleness is preferable only when those who have been given the gift of celibacy exercise this gift for the kingdom. Marriage, Jesus implies, is the norm for most of God’s people and is not in itself inferior to lifelong singleness. Singleness is better than marriage only for those to whom God has given the gift of celibacy (1 Cor. 7). Thus, as John Calvin wrote, “God gives [the gift of singleness and celibacy] to whom he chooses…it is folly in any man to choose to live unmarried, when he has not received this special gift.”
All marriages in this fallen world have bad days, but we should not discourage marriage or seek divorce frivolously. Marriage offers kingdom opportunities, like the discipleship of children, that are generally unavailable to single people. At the same time, single people can more easily do kingdom work in foreign lands or other tasks that keep them away from home. Neither marriage nor singleness are inherently superior; both vocations can serve the Lord.
Single believers like Daniel and Paul as well as married believers such as Abraham and Peter have been used mightily of the Lord to advance His purposes. Knowing this to be true, our churches should be places where both singles and married couples are equally valued and given opportunities to serve in the congregation. If you serve as a leader in your church, do what you can to encourage both married couples and singles to take part in ministry.
For further study:
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